Thursday, July 16, 2009

Meaningless or Meaningful

A group is lobbying to engrave a bunch of religious phrases on the US Capitol Visitor's Center, and their arguments are pretty flimsy. IN addition to suggestiong that it will cost more to fight the lawsuits than to just acquiesce and write religious slogans on public buildings, they dredge up the old "freedom of religion, not freedom from religion" argument, which they only seem to use when it's THEIR religion they want to display or give benefit to.

I find it extremely inappropriate to put religious phrases on secular buildings. Whiile I might not like religious decorations in public squares at holidays, they are transient and reflect the celebration of the season. But continuing to add christian imagery (and make no mistake, these groups are not lobbying to put "Hail, Baal!" on the building, or "Praise Allah" anywhere in Washington DC) to public buildings is attempting to give a specific religion primacy. 'In god we trust' is not referring to Quezlcoatl, I'm sure.

No one has ever suggested that people cannot practice whatever religion they want (as long as they break no other laws)- we only speak up when they want to force everyone else to give special recognition to their particular brand of religion. Criticism is not oppression, and suggesting that perhaps not everyone agrees with you is not persecution.

But here's where I get a bit confused:
"Put 'In God We Trust' on visitor's center, and be quiet already"

Let's start by pointing out the First Amendment doesn't grant freedom "from" religion, just freedom "of" religion. It doesn't ban religion, it provides freedom for all so that one denomination doesn't dominate or become the official state religion. Whether you practice a religion or not is up to people's preferences.

My irony meter just pinged. Yes, that's right. You can practice however you want, but you aren't allowed to coerce the rest of us into accepting, believing or following their dogma. And yet, anyone who disagrees with publicly funding and supporting expressions of specific faith is "the need-to-be-offended type" or an atheist or agnostic who obviously hates America and all it stands for.

But it's a meaninless social construct, they argue. It's a rote phrase stripped of its religious meaning. It's cultural. We should put it everywhere! Those people who are trying to prevent the project are just killjoys and are over-reacting!

No one is forced to worship because they saw the motto on a $20 bill. Or because they recited the Pledge of Allegiance. It's pretty innocuous.
You know what? You can't have it both ways. Either religious slogans on money, on buildings, are harmless, innocuous phrases wihtout meaning, and we shouldn't get all upset about it, or they are so important that if someone criticizes them they are hateful (atheists) and obviously want to destroy civilization.

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